Judge Ian Visser believes in a lot of things, but he's only willing to die for eight of them. No, wait...seven.
Empathy is the most revolutionary emotion.
Something of an untold tale, Home of the Bravechronicles the life and short struggle of a woman far from home and in a place many believed she had no business being.
Facts of the Case
Alabama, 1965. In an attempt to draw attention to the cause of civil rights for African-Americans, thousands undertook a voter's registration march from Selma to Montgomery over 4 days and 54 miles. Viola Luizzo was murdered on final night of the march, the only white woman to die in the movement. Shot while driving with a black man in her car, an investigation resulted in four Klansmen quickly being arrested. One turned out to be an FBI informant and was granted immunity from prosecution, while the remaining three were tried for murder and acquitted by an all-white jury. The men were later prosecuted in federal court for violated Luizzo's civil rights, found guilty, and sentenced to 10 years.
The case appeared closed under the mid-1970s, when the informant, Gary Thomas Rowe, testified before Congress that the FBI had encouraged and supported various acts of violence he committed while infiltrating the Klan. Intrigued, the Luizzo family gained access to their mother's FBI file, and learned that director J. Edgar Hoover had conducted a smear campaign against Luizzo following her death. The file included accusations of drug use, promiscuity, and child abandonment by Luizzo. The family asserted that Hoover and the FBI didn't want to encourage further support of the movement by whites and thus undertook to dirty the reputation of the slain civil rights' worker.
Even more ominous, there was a strong suggestion that the drive-by-shooting story was a cover by the FBI to protect their informant who may have executed Luizzo at point-blank range. Forensic evidence suggests that Luizzo was not killed while driving, and all three of the other men involve claim that Rowe was the killer, which he denied. The family sued the federal government for sanctioning their mother's death, but lost on the argument that Rowe was still protected under his 1965 immunity deal.
In the wake of the defeat, we see how the family gradually drifted apart, growing more isolated from each other. Although the family feels they finally know what happened to their mother more than 40 years ago, there is no sense of closure or justice.
It's amazing to me that this dark part of American history is only 40 years old. Many of the participants involved with the case are still alive, which brings home the fact that only a generation has passed since the struggle for civil rights occurred.
The film uses a mix of period footage, crime scene photos, and FBI documents to paint an image of time and place. In the course of the documentary, we see interviews with the children of Luizzo, as well as various interviews with journalists, lawyers, FBI officials, and activists. They paint a sympathetic portrait of Luizzo as a woman who was motivated by the violence she saw occurring in Alabama, and was willing to leave her family behind to join the struggle.
Home of the Bravedoes a good job of explaining the events surrounding the case and provides a great deal of information about the family and their ordeal. The case was covered extensively in the press, and director Paola di Florio includes period film interviews with Luizzo's children and her husband, shot just days after the killing occurred. It's worth noting that Luizzo's impact seems to still resonate with people in Alabama; in many cases her daughter is treated like royalty as she tours the South, retracing her mother's footsteps some 40 years earlier.
The effect that Luizzo's death seems to have had on the children she left behind is profound. One brother seems to have been so poisoned by the experience that he turned into a survivalist, proudly displaying his handguns and running a "freedom radio" program for the Michigan Militia. Another son retreated to the backwoods of Alabama and hasn't had contact with the family for years. One wonders how their lives would have been different if their mother had survived, or if they had managed to secure some admittance of guilt from the government or FBI.
Shot on digital video, the full-frame image possesses some graininess but is clear from most defects. The audio options include a 2-channel Dolby Digital track, as well as a 5.1 mix. The 2-channel sound appears to be more than adequate for a documentary of this type, so I'm curious as to why a second track was included. In either case, the audio is very clear and free of any issues.
Special features on Home of the Braveare substantial. Besides a theatrical trailer, the viewer gets some pages from Luizzo's FBI file, four deleted scenes, a civil rights timeline, and a collection of photographs and memorabilia from the period. All of these extras do a good job of further immersing the viewer in the era.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My main issue with Home of the Braveis its lack of focus. A good part of the film is dedicated to Luizzo's daughter as she traces her mother's path to Alabama and meets with friends and fellow marchers along the way. Unfortunately, this distracts from the more interesting elements of the story, and the much information gathered does little to clarify the case.
In addition, the documentary aspect of the film ends 20 minutes before the film actually does. Instead of further investigating any surrounding issues of the case (such as the current whereabouts of the informant, Rowe) the closing moments are spent dealing with family issues that do not hold the same appeal as the main thrust of the story. Instead, the film drifts away from facts of the case and develops into a screed about governmental intrusion on public rights.
Home of the Bravescores a solid mark when it stays on target but too often strays beyond the main story. A tighter focus could have provided a more compelling story of this nearly-forgotten woman that gave her life for a movement she believed in.
Home of the Brave is released on its own recognizance and is ordered to complete community service.
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